This is the story of Nigeria, a country inhabited by people used to long suffering.
“With every breath you take you’re dying; with every step we take we’re falling apart. If we only had one chance we’d breathe; let’s take the chance right now and scream. You only have one life; for a very short time. So make every second divine.” Those words were lifted from You Only Live Once, a song released in 2011 by the heavy metal group, Suicide Silence. It is a reminder of our mortality, and the need to make the seconds count.
Some might remember the South African photo journalist, Kevin Carter, born in South Africa during apartheid. He had journeyed through life and suffered from depression when he decided to become a photo journalist, his way of exposing the brutality of apartheid. In 1993, while on a trip to Sudan, he took a picture of a child trying to reach a feeding centre as a vulture landed nearby; that picture won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994. Later that year, Kevin Carter went to an area he used to play as a child and took his life. In his suicide note, he spoke of being hunted by trigger happy mad men, executioners, starving or wounded children and corpses. What he never mentioned was how a picture he took forced the world to pay attention to famine and suffering in Sudan. Though he died a troubled man, he bequeathed a lot of his burden to the world. Some adults in Sudan must be grateful that his photos contributed to their survival.
While Kevin Carter was committing suicide in a car, a Nigerian man started a similar journey in Lagos for remarkably different reasons. M.K.O. Abiola was one of Nigeria’s richest men, and a known associate of the military leadership of the country. Once the election of June 12 1993 was cancelled, many Nigerians expected Abiola to cut a deal with the military and renounce his mandate. But something snapped in this man’s head: on June 11, 1994, he made his famous “Enough is Enough” declaration at Epetedo. In that historic moment, he announced a Government of National Unity, and became the rallying point for democracy in Nigeria. In our normal, sensational manner, people trooped to Abiola’s home in their thousands, vowing to ensure he was not arrested by the police. As the hours passed, people got hungry, tired or even bored. Many retired to their homes. In the early hours of the morning, the police invaded the home of Chief MKO Abiola, arrested him, and took his freedom away forever. At the time of his arrest, he was alone.
This is the story of Nigeria, a country inhabited by people used to long suffering. We complain about the state of the nation, like our parents and grandparents before us, yet we carry on living. We expect a super hero to bring the wind of change, yet we suppress the hero in each of us. We pay bribes, jump queues at the airports, help our children cheat in examinations, but want a better Nigeria.
I listened to a professor of neurosurgery explain why he refused the temptation of petro-dollars from a Saudi hospital to remain in Nigeria. He was the last of a disappearing breed and wondered who would teach the future generations if he decided to jump ship. A few years later, a stranger parked in front of my house, and asked for directions to this professor’s house. He explained amidst tears that his wife lay at death’s gates, and this man was the only one who could prevent her from crossing over. I saw hope reappear on this stranger’s face as he met Professor “D” and understood the reason this unsung hero forsook personal wealth for community service.
Today is the beginning of the rest of our lives; we can spend it complaining about our damaged country, or make personal sacrifices to take us closer to the Nigeria we all want to inhabit.
This post is dedicated to the memory of those who gave up everything to give us a chance; and the woman who defied the heavy rains on Tuesday to sweep Herbert Macaulay Way before 6am.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.